Where Will The Slippery Slope End? — Katha Pollitt in The Nation on the ramifications of the Hobby Lobby ruling.
Where will it all end? “It is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial,” Justice Alito writes. There is no limit to religious requirements and restrictions in our land of a thousand “faiths.” Several companies have already filed cases that object to all forms of contraception, not just the four singled out by Hobby Lobby, and the day after the decision the Court clarified that its ruling applied to all methods. And why draw the line on legal exemptions at religion anyway? Plenty of foolish parents now risk their children’s lives and the public’s health because they reject vaccines on “philosophical” grounds. What happens when Aristotle, the CEO, claims that birth control—or psychotherapy or organ transplants—goes against his “philosophy”?
Justice Alito’s opinion is canny. Slippery slope? No problem: “our decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate. Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs.” He specifically mentions vaccines, blood transfusions and protection from racial discrimination as being in no danger, but he gives no argument about why Hobby Lobby’s logic would never apply. In other words, birth control is just different. Of course, it’s about women. Anyone could need a blood transfusion, after all, even Alito himself. And it’s about powerful Christian denominations, too, to which this Court slavishly defers—for example, in the recent decision finding no discrimination in the Christian prayers that routinely open town council meetings in Greece, New York.
As Ruth Bader Ginsburg argues in her stirring dissent, there’s “little doubt that RFRA claims will proliferate, for the Court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood—combined with its other errors in construing RFRA—invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faith.” The reason it’s unlikely the Supreme Court would uphold a religious exemption for vaccinations or blood transfusions is not something intrinsic to those claims; it’s simply that Alito finds them weird. Birth control is banned by the Bible? Sure. Blood transfusions are banned by the Bible? Don’t be silly. For now. We have no idea, really, how far the Court might be willing to extend RFRA. Could a CEO refuse to pay childbirth costs for unmarried women? Could he pay married men more because that’s what the Lord wants? (Actually, he’s probably already doing that.) But here’s my prediction: the day a religious exemption burdens by so much as a mouse’s whisker the right of men to protect their own bodies from unwanted, well, anything, is the day the Supreme Court Five discover that religion is not so deserving of deference after all.
Some But Not All — From Mark Joseph Stern in Slate, marriage equality is but one of the hurdles gay couples still face.
The U.S. Constitution protects gay people’s right to marry the person they love. It does not, however, protect them from getting fired for doing so. Throughout the first decade of marriage equality, most states that legalized gay marriage also proscribed anti-gay employment discrimination, rendering this legal dissonance moot. But as more and more states find marriage equality foisted upon them by a judicial mandate, this discordance in rights presents something of a ticking time bomb for the LGBT movement.
Currently, Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation with both gay marriage (thanks to a federal judge) and no employment protections for gay people. But as this dizzyingly polychromatic Guardian chart illustrates, several other states also boast same-sex marriage while lacking hospital visitation, adoption rights, or housing protections for sexual minorities. In New Mexico, a man can marry his male partner—but can be forbidden from visiting him in the hospital. In New York and New Hampshire, trans people can be evicted from their houses and fired from their jobs for being trans. In Hawaii, a gay student can legally be kicked out of school based solely on his orientation.
And when the Supreme Court almost inevitably legalizes marriage equality nationwide, the chasm between gay marriage and broader LGBT equality is going to expand rapidly in dozens of red states. Marriage equality was supposed to be an umbrella issue, pulling purportedly lesser gay rights into its sweep. To some extent, this strategy has succeeded: Most Americans now profess a generalized support for gay equality. But in direly reactionary states, it may take decades to convert this support into legislative action—even after the judiciary renders gay marriage a settled issue.
There are some stopgap solutions here. President Barack Obama has ordered most hospitals to provide visitation rights to gay couples, extended LGBT protections to federal employees and federal contractors, and forbidden gay and trans discrimination by HUD-assisted housing programs. But administrative regulations and executive orders can’t extend as far as a federal measure would, and a Republican president could swiftly reverse them on his first day in office. An ENDA-type federal law could permanently outlaw this kind of discrimination everywhere, but the Republican-controlled House refuses to pass one, and LGBT job discrimination remains legal (and common) in 29 states.
What’s the solution to this coming crisis? The fight for nationwide gay marriage will turn out to be a hollow joke if gay couples in red states are too afraid of discrimination to actually get married and enjoy the dignity of true, state-prescribed equality. Because the Republican House refuses to consider gay rights measures—and because states like Tennessee and Alabama seem unlikely to act on their own to protect sexual minorities—the best solution is probably the one gays have relied on for decades: the courts. Thanks to federal lawsuits, judges are already considering the idea that existing law outlaws anti-gay discrimination in every state and that the Constitution guarantees same-sex adoption rights. The same logic that shoehorns anti-gay discrimination into sex discrimination could be used to turn the Fair Housing Act’s sex discrimination clause into a protection for LGBT people.
North Korea Pans Hollywood — Paul Fischer on the film industry in a place with no sense of humor.
In mid-June, the trailer for Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s comedy “The Interview” hit the Internet. The movie, due in October, stars James Franco and Mr. Rogen as an American talk-show host and his producer, recruited to assassinate the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, while in Pyongyang to interview him. The trailer features Mr. Franco and Mr. Rogen riding tanks, the actor Randall Park as Kim Jong-un smoking a missile-size cigar, and a discussion, played for laughs, of reported North Korean propaganda claims that none of the Kim leaders defecate.
Within days, the North Korean Foreign Ministry slammed the film as “intolerable,” as well as “the most blatant act of terrorism and an act of war,” and threatened “merciless” retaliation if it was released. The next day the North Korean military launched three short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, as if to hint, “See what I mean?”
The lesson: Never underestimate the power of marijuana in Hollywood, and phallic jokes about rockets and cigars.
It seems absurd for the leader of a nuclear state to be so incensed over an anarchic comedy by the guys who brought you “This Is the End” and “Pineapple Express.” But movies have held inordinate importance in North Korean politics, beginning even before the country’s founding in 1948. One of the earliest actions by Kim Il-sung, called Great Leader, was to create a Soviet-supported national film studio, where he gave filmmakers and crews preferential food rations and housing. His son, Kim Jong-il, called Dear Leader, was a film buff who owned one of the largest private film collections in the world and whose first position of power was in running the regime’s propaganda apparatus, including its film studios. For over 20 years he micromanaged every new North Korean film production, as writer, producer, executive and critic; to his people, he is still known today first and foremost — thanks to propaganda rather than any real talent or skill — as the greatest creative genius in North Korea’s history.
The Dear Leader was less quick to take offense than his son Kim Jong-un is today — partly because, at least early on, he preferred threats he could follow up on; in those days, North Korean covert operatives still had the know-how to hijack a plane, bomb a state function, and target a South Korean president. Also, taking offense would have been an obvious case of the pot calling the kettle black. Most of his productions treated foreigners, Americans especially, the way Mr. Rogen, Mr. Franco and Mr. Goldberg treat Kim Jong-un: as cartoonish stock baddies. North Korean films of the 1980s are full of Western villains, usually admirals or colonels, with Dr. Evil bald heads and names like Dr. Kelton or Her Majesty’s officer Louis London. These characters all hatched devious schemes to destroy North Korea and take over the world for the White House.
As North Korea had no Western actors to speak of, they were first played by Koreans in heavily caked whiteface makeup. Later on, American defectors and foreign prisoners, diplomats or visiting businessmen were “persuaded” to come into the studio for a day or a week and paste a monocle and fake mustache on for the cameras and dialogue-dubbers.
Like Mr. Rogen and Mr. Goldberg’s work, Mr. Kim’s films could be hilarious. But it was always unintentional. North Koreans don’t do comedy. To try and make someone laugh you must be ready for them not to take you seriously, something all three generations of Kim rulers have been unable to do. Where Pyongyang’s propaganda billboards used to threaten war if North Korea was invaded or attacked, now they warn foreigners “not to interfere with our self-respect.”
Doonesbury — Born to be mild.